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Protect your debit card from ATM skimming

Even if you're choosy about which ATMs you use, you can still become a victim of identity thieves who place seamless devices on machines to steal debit card information.

ATM skimming is a growing problem and the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) recommends that consumers take steps to protect themselves from becoming the next victim.

According to, ATM skimmers are close to reaping $1 billion annually from unsuspecting consumers. Javelin Strategy & Research estimates that one in five people have become victims.

Identity thieves tamper with ATMs in any number of different ways in order to steal debit card numbers and PINs. It only takes a few seconds to install cameras over the keypad or a device over the card reader. ATMs aren't the only hot spots; credit card swipers at gas pumps and retailers can be tampered with as well.

"Skimming devices are becoming increasingly harder to detect and often blend in seamlessly with the ATM," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. "If you're going to use an ATM, you could become a victim, and it's important to monitor your accounts closely so you can quickly detect any fraudulent activity on your card and minimize your losses."

Following are a few ways to fight identity thieves at the ATM:

--Protect your PIN. When entering your PIN, cover the keypad with your other hand to prevent any cameras from catching your digits. False keypads placed over the real keypad are also a way scammers get PIN numbers so if the keypad looks different, find a different ATM machine.

--Give it a wiggle. Skimming devices are often false panels attached to the ATM - such as where you put your card into the machine. If parts of the ATM look damaged or different, give them a wiggle. Also look for new or suspiciously placed cameras and unusual signage. Don't hesitate to walk away and use another ATM if it doesn't feel right.

--Be picky with your ATMs. Avoid using ATMs in poorly lighted or low-traffic areas. Experts often recommend choosing a bank ATM over stand-alone ATMs in public places. Not only do identity thieves attach devices to legitimate ATMs to steal numbers, they will also place their own phony ATMs in public places.

--Keep an eye on your statements. The most vigilant person can still fall victim to ATM skimmers, and it's important to always keep a close eye on your accounts, particularly the itemized breakdown of charges and debits, so that you can quickly report any suspicious activity on your account.

--Report fraud immediately. Report any fraudulent activity to your bank as soon as you discover it. Consumer protections for debit cards vary but depend largely on when you report the fraudulent activity. If you wait too long to report the fraud, your bank account could be cleaned out and your bank might not reimburse you.

For more advice on fighting identity thieves and preventing fraud, visit the Better Business Bureau online at